BHUBANESWAR: The indefinite strike called by All Odisha Private Bus Owners' Association (AOPBOA) left hundreds of passengers stranded across the state on Friday even as Durga Puja festivities commenced.
Passengers had a harrowing experience as about 17,000 private buses went off roads on Friday morning opposing the government's Location Accessible Multimodal Initiative' (LAccMI) scheme.
Many bus stands wore a deserted look on the day as the passengers continued to look for alternative modes of transport to reach their destinations.
In Bhubaneswar's Baramunda bus stand, a long queue of passengers could be seen in front of the Odisha State Road Transport Corporation (OSRTC) counter. The passengers standing in sweltering heat expressed their displeasure over the private bus owners' association decision to call for a strike in such short notice.
"This is a crisis with many people unaware of the sudden strike called by the private bus association. As the puja has commenced, the association should have informed about its decision at least 10 to 15 days," said a passenger, Brahmaraj Kulbhusan Hemram.
Many passengers boarded trains till Bhubaneswar hoping to reach their destinations in OSRTC buses. "I study in Berhampur and my exams got over on Thursday but I could not find any bus in the evening to return to my house in Narasinghpur as the association had announced its strike. I boarded a train to reach the capital," said a student, Biswapriya Pradhan.
Some passengers complained the staff at OSRTC counter were not able to disseminate information properly and their behaviour was also not professional. "I came here with my wife and son to make purchases for the puja. We want to return to Balugaon but the staff at the OSRTC counter are not able to clearly inform us about the bus timings," said a passenger, Gandharba Lenka.
Unhindered by the passengers' inconvenience, the association's members said they would continue with the strike until their demands were fulfilled. "We had no option but to launch the strike as we are against the plying of buses on long-distance routes under the LAccMI scheme," said the association's spokesperson, Debashish Nayak.
The association's members have threatened to continue the strike and not hold any negotiations until the government 'seriously' considers their demands.
However, some bus associations are continuing operations in districts like Mayurbhanj and Balasore to ensure that passengers do not face any hassle during Durga Puja.
Commerce and Transport Department minister Tukuni Sahu said the association's members' decision to launch the strike is unilateral as the government had called them for discussions on October 26. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday launched bus services under the LAccMI scheme in the Gajapati district.